South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

Length: 18 inches Wingspan: 32 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Large size for shorebird, strongly decurved bill, strong black head stripes

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopusThe Whimbrel is a very widespread shorebird, breeding throughout the Arctic, and wintering along the coasts of every continent except Antarctica.  The American subspecies was once considered its own species, formerly called the Hudsonian Curlew, but all four distinct subspecies in the world were then reclassified under one species.  There are some distinct plumage differences between North American birds and their Eurasian counterparts, however.  Whimbrels commonly migrate along coastlines, but are relatively scarce in the interior of the continent, although they often can be found in traditional stopover points such as the Salton Sea and the Great Lakes.  They are quite uncommon migrants in South Dakota.

Habitat: Breeds on Arctic Tundra.  In migration, can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including mudflats, sandy beaches, rocky coastlines, salt marshes, and flooded agricultural fields.

Diet: Summer diet consists of both insects and berries.  Along coastlines, eats mollusks, crustaceans, amphipods, and marine worms.

Behavior: Walks along shorelines or mudflats, probing in the mud with its beak or picking food items off the surface. 

Breeding: Non-breeder in South Dakota.  On their breeding range, the nest is a shallow depression on the ground, lined with mosses, lichen, and grasses.  The female lays 3 or 4 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  When the eggs hatch, the young leave the nest and feed themselves, but the parents tend to the young and vigorously protect them from predators.

Song:  Fast whistled 5-7 note series...wi-wi-wi-wi-wi-wi.

Migration: Summers in Alaska and northern Canada.  Winters along the U.S. Pacific coast and Gulf Coast southward through South America.

Similar Species: Long-billed Curlew, Bristle-thighed Curlew

Status: 19th century hunting took a heavy toll on the Whimbrel.  Numbers haven't ever recovered to historical levels, but have recovered somewhat in recent decades.  The IUCN lists the Whimbrel as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Whimbrel

2) Audubon Watchlist - Whimbrel

3) eNature.com -- Whimbrel

Photo Information: Photo taken by Alan Vernon - Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Whimbrel - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Rare migrant
 

Additional Whimbrel Photos (coming soon!)